DNA barcoding is one of the most exciting new frontiers in biomolecular science. Originally dreamt up in 2003 by a Canadian biologist, Paul Hebert – now affectionately known as the Godfather of Barcoding – the idea was proposed to use a standardised gene region (or regions) for species identification and the online, open access warehousing of a DNA barcode library. This standardised gene region would be unique for each species and provide an easy source of genetic identification for every species on the planet. Less than a decade later, the Barcode of Life Database, which is run by Paul and his team at the International Barcode of Life initiative, contains barcodes for around 167,000 species, and researchers predict that by 2015, they will amass a reference library of five million standardised DNA sequences they can use to identify 500,000 species – estimated to be more than a quarter of all described species on Earth. The rapid rise of DNA barcoding technology, the number of species already barcoded, and the number of applications it is being employed in, is extraordinary.
Meeting of barcoding minds
The Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity and the University of Adelaide were proud to host the 4th International Barcode of Life Conference in December in 2011, and the meeting was significant in establishing Australia as a centre for barcoding in the southern hemisphere. Previous meetings have been held in London, Taipei and Mexico City.
Barcode of Life conferences are held every two years, and bring together experts from across the globe, co-convened by the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, based at the Smithsonian Institution, and a local host, in this case the University of Adelaide. These conferences aim to promote collaborations between science, business and policy in order for the wider-community to better understand and manage their biodiversity and DNA barcoding applications.
What was new at this conference?
This year’s conference saw over 400 attendees from over 60 countries converging on Adelaide to listen to a variety of plenary presentations that explored new developments and applications for DNA barcoding, including using barcodes to manage quarantine processes, fight illegal wildlife trade, and building the barcode library to identify the world’s species.
Conference sessions covered all taxonomic groups, from fungi to fish, mammals to mayflies, and plants to pathogens. Thematic sessions explored exciting new frontiers in DNA barcoding, including polar life, parasites and vectors and informatics.
Australia’s quarantine officials are already employing barcoding technology to help in the fight against invasive plants and animals entering the country, and the seafood industry is using unique DNA barcodes to ensure that inferior fish are not substituted for valuable tuna and customers can be assured they are dining on sustainably harvested products.
As barcoding becomes more broadly used, it is also becoming much cheaper, with DNA sequences now obtainable for around $5 per specimen. Researchers and industry champions hope that this will mean restaurants and timber companies, for example, will soon be able to afford to run their own tests.
The Atlas of Living Australia is doing its part to add to the library, with FISH-BOL aiming to barcode all of the marine and freshwater fish which occur in Australia – around 4,500 species and rising.
Presentations, videos and discussions from the conference are available to view online, including:
Opening Plenary and other presentations can be viewed here and here, and the talks from the event at the South Australian Museum can be viewed here.
Do we need DNA barcoding for conservation? A panel discussion hosted by the Australian Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.
Doctor Who’s world just a step away, Adelaide Advertiser, 1st December 2011, Clare Peddie.
DNA Barcoding: from fish to furniture, ABC Online, 30th November 2011, article by Michael Collett.